Violist Crista Kende '07 received a master's from Juilliard and hopes to play in a professional orchestra. Step one: buying an instrument, with help from a crowd-sourcing website. (Photo: Courtesy Crista Kende)

After receiving a master’s degree from Juilliard, violist Crista Kende ’07 found herself on the brink of a music career, but she was missing something crucial: a world-class instrument.

Kende had been practicing and playing on a viola loaned to her by the Virtu Foundation, which lends high-quality instruments to talented students, since she was 14. She had to return the foundation’s 19th-century French viola when the term of the loan ended.

“This was hard, because you bond with this instrument. It becomes like your voice,” she said. “I had all this training, and no instrument.”

Like many musicians, Kende enjoys playing mature instruments that are valued for their history and workmanship. She soon realized, however, that such instruments — handcrafted by famous and often long-departed makers — were in short supply and well out of her price range. “A lot of people aren’t aware of how expensive traditional instruments are,” she said.

Kende has reoriented her search to include more affordable contemporary instruments but still faces the issue of high cost. She currently is using A Viola for Crista, her crowd-funding website, to raise funds for the purchase of a fine viola, promising “perks” such as recordings, lessons, and private concerts in exchange for contributions.

Kende hopes to eventually win a job at a top orchestra — a challenging goal, since major orchestras sometimes have no open seats for over a decade. She practices viola in the mornings, evenings, and on weekends using an instrument that belongs to her parents, and works part time at the crowd-funding site Indiegogo to make ends meet. The musician’s life, she said, presents challenges that go beyond financial instability.

“It’s a very different sort of rhythm to your life,” Kende said, noting that while professions such as banking, law, and medicine are structured and goal-oriented, music involves developing a craft indefinitely and without a timeframe. “It’s a lot more open-ended.”